, August 2007
Whilst this disc does not represent the finest and most dazzling organ repertoire, it certainly comes from a a very important chapter in the history of English organ music. The organ music of S.S. Wesley, son of Samuel, grandson of Charles, is the link between a long tradition of manuals-only organ music and the beginning of a new era characterised by obbligato pedal parts. S.S. Wesley was a renowned organist, though it is surprising that despite his compositional talents and his incredible ability at improvisation, he produced only a small number of compositions. Small, but nonetheless hugely significant, S.S. Wesley’s organ output paved the way for a great revival of organ music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed he has been labelled as the greatest composer in the English tradition between Purcell and Stanford.
Thus Wesley’s organ works are remarkable for their historical significance, but not exceptional as a musical entity when placed against other compositions in this idiom. As a listening experience, this CD is nothing more than pleasant, not because of the actual playing which is stylish and polished, but because of the relative blandness of the music. Most of the pieces are marked Andante and after half a dozen or so, one finds oneself pining for something a little more uplifting. However, the music is creative and delightful, and in places quite suggestive of Wesley’s own skill as an extemporiser. Indeed the inventiveness of the fugue in the Introduction and Fugue in C sharp minor, is quite special and is a suitably fitting homage to Bach; Wesley was named after his father’s musical idol.
The instrument chosen for this recording couldn’t have been more appropriate – an organ as English as they come dating from Wesley’s time with lots of depth and colour. The softer solo reed stops are utterly charming: the orchestral oboe in the Larghetto in F sharp minor and the Andante Cantabile in G major particularly stand out; as does the clarinet in the Andante in E minor. For me the highlight is the Andante in F major, which is the centre-piece of the disc. It is an extended work, its pianistic style making it almost Mendelssohnian, that calls for technically astute playing and rhythmic conviction – requirements that McVinnie clearly has.
This is a CD for the organ enthusiast keen to fill a gap in the collection.